Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Introduction

Serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” (1)

This anthology provides examples of scientific serendipity. This will introduce a number of scientists, inventions, and theories that all came about because of serendipity. This theme was clear throughout the books that we read during the semester and we wanted to prove that serendipity really exists in the scientific community as well as the world around us.

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity
Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Sally Smith Hughes writes, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, a historical account about the rise of Genentech Inc. Hughes takes the reader from the beginnings of biotech in 1973, to Genentech’s creation by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert Boyer, to its Wall Street debut in 1980. Hughes is a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley contributing over 150 oral histories[1] to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; additionally Hughes also wrote The Virus: A History of the Concept[2]. Genentech tells the story of how a multiplicity of perspectives and personalities can affect the growth of science; and how outside sources of control and regulation, by government and private sector, can help or hamper progress in commercial and university scientific research. Continue reading “Genentech: History of Biotechnology”

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama 

President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.

A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?

 

Source: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#Second

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

What Makes A Sociopath?

“Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long.” (Psychology Today)

We talked a lot about Frediani possibly having some sort of personality disorder but we never really came to any conclusions. I believe Frediani is a sociopath because of many of his personality qualities and actions point to that fact. According to Psychology Today, Frediani has many sociopathic qualities such as being easily agitated, volatile, prone to emotional outbursts, fits of rage, and unable to hold down jobs or stay in one place for very long. Additionally, “any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned” (Psychology Today)  which is similar not only to Frediani’s first sexual assault, but, the murder of Helena Greenwood; both of these were spontaneous events and were not carefully planned or thought out. Interestingly enough, sociopaths also have difficulty forming attachments and relationships with other people, this could point further to Frediani’s illness because throughout the book he had difficulty staying in relationships with women.

 

Source:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wicked-deeds/201401/how-tell-sociopath-psychopath

What Makes A Sociopath?

What Crimes Fit the Death Penalty?

“As it relates to crimes against individuals, though, the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” -Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)

The death penalty is kept for the most heinous crimes committed by people, but, the vast majority of crimes that result in the death penalty are from trials for murder. But for even the most evil and twisted of crimes such as the rape of a child or torture, federal government has outlawed the practice. The case that went to the Supreme Court to decide this was a 2003 case, Kennedy v. Louisiana; it was a case involving Patrick Kennedy, who raped his step-daughter and was given the death penalty in Louisiana for his crimes. However, after his lawyers appealed this ruling with the circuit court of appeals, the case ended up in the supreme court where the majority ruled that “as it relates to crimes against individuals, though, the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” (1) Although, murder is not the only crime that can result in a death sentence, “espionage, treason, trafficking large quantities of drugs, and attempting to kill any officer, juror,or witness in cases involving Continuing Criminal Enterprise” (1) (“large-scale drug traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate drug conspiracies” (2)).

1.http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-offenses-other-murder

2.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuing_Criminal_Enterprise

What Crimes Fit the Death Penalty?

The Innocence Project

“The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” (The Innocence Project Mission Statement)

In Chapter 13, Weinberg talks about the innocence project, whose purpose is to exonerate falsely convicted people of crimes they did not commit. But just how effective and successful is the innocence project? As of March 17th, 2016 there have been 337 DNA exonerations led by the innocence project. However, almost half of those cases become cold cases again, after exoneration, because only 166 of the 337 cases have successfully found the correct perpetrators; the rest of the cases let the innocent person free but have yet to find the true guilty party. The innocence project says that the leading causes of wrongful conviction were: eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated or improper forensic science, false confessions and incriminating statements, and informants.

Other interesting facts about the cases the innocence project takes on were…

• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 37 states; since 2000, there have been 263 exonerations.

• 20 of the 337 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Another 16 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.

• The average length of time served by exonerees is 14 years. The total number of years served is approximately 4,606.

• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 26.5.

– See more at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/free-innocent/improve-the-law/fact-sheets/dna-exonerations-nationwide#sthash.GMTgnMoV.dpuf

The Innocence Project

Jekyll and Hyde: Multiple Personalities

This would last for days; periods of silence and coldness, followed by accusations and recriminations. Eileen remembers his ugly temper, and also his emotional, romantic side. “He has two personalities,” she said, “just like a Jekyll and Hyde. He even looked different when he was in a rage, his nostrils flaring, these wild eyes this rage…” (Weinberg 185)

Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), Schizophrenia, or even alcoholism can trigger somebody into believing that he or she is a different person at certain points in their day, week, month, or years. The most severe of these disorders is multiple personality disorder, in which a person displays two or more distinct identities, they themselves become a completely different person at certain points; not to be confused with schizophrenia where someone has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. However, in the way that MPD causes complete changes in someones personality, schizophrenia is often thought of as having a “split mind” or multiple minds in your head, instead of becoming a different person, it is like you have many people or “voices” talking to each other. Possibly the more terrifying is schizophrenia because, unlike MPD, you can lose touch with reality by not knowing what part of those “voices” in your head are telling the truth, so to speak. Additionally, MPD is often associated with “amnesia”, or not remembering an MPD episode, while still unnerving, the person suffering from MPD may not even realize they’ve had an episode.

http://www.humanillnesses.com/original/Men-Os/Multiple-Personality-Disorder-Dissociative-Identity-Disorder.html

Jekyll and Hyde: Multiple Personalities

DNA Profiling

“The resulting pattern was not as discriminating as the DNA fingerprint- consisting of only two bands for each individual, one inherited from their mother and one from their father- but could be worked up to high levels of specificity by using several probes. Jeffreys accordingly dubbed this method “DNA profiling” (Weinberg 121)

DNA profiling has been one of the most useful techniques for identifying criminals that have left behind any form of cell from their bodies. The main function of Alec Jeffrey’s was the use of agarose gel electrophoresis, which sorted the cut DNA strands using an electric current. The electrophoresis process uses a negative charge to sort the DNA where the shorter the DNA strand the farther down the agarose gel it will move. The pattern that comes out of the process is the “fingerprint” part of the DNA profiling process because you can compare different agarose gel patterns much like you can with fingerprints.

DNA Profiling

Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt

Steven Johnson writes, Where Good Ideas Come From, a book dedicated to the history of innovation and how good ideas come to be. Author of many bestsellers including; The Invention Map, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You and more. Johnson is an avid contributor to Time, The Economist, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Written for the curious scientist, Where Good Ideas Come From attracts a wide range of readers to partake in its in-depth investigation of the mind, including human innovation and natural curiosity. A page-turner without much need for context, Johnson is able to spark curiosity in the readers’ minds with thought provoking claims and revelatory answers. Continue reading “Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt”

Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt

Antigens

“same blood antigens are secreted into other bodily fluids- semen, saliva, tears, and sweat- by 80 percent of the population.” (Weinberg 53)

I do not understand how people can commit crimes anymore, it just doesn’t make sense to me, anybody who has seen any Law & Order, or NCIS, or Cold Case should know how effective the police are at proving you are guilty. Unless you are meticulous enough to where gloves, hair hair, most likely a mask, plastic bags over the shoes, you will be caught because you can’t be careful enough not to drop hair follicles or sweat somewhere. On the other hand how do police account for the other 20% of the population, are they just not able to be identified through these antigens, of do you they have an even more rare condition that makes it easier to identify you?

 

Antigens

Scientists Can Be Wrong

“the majority of geneticists were still concentrating on protein at the time, and were apparently loath to abandon something into which they had poured so much time and intellectual energy” (Weinberg 34)

This one belief could be one of the most frustrating part of science: scientists are stubborn enough to work on something for years even if they know it is leading to know where. This is across all fields of study, scientists who have poured their lives into an idea that will never come to fruition because it is just not right. I have always wondered how many countless technologies and theories have been struck down simply on the belief of a majority of scientists that your idea is wrong; just because a majority of scientists believe something, does not mean it is right, for 50 years before inflation theory was discovered, scientists believed that the universe was constant, Einstein himself believed this.

 

Scientists Can Be Wrong

Chapter 2

“there were two different communities; the white coats and the suits” (Weinberg 15)

It seems that the world’s corporations, businesses, anybody that is a force of technological change, always are in these two categories: the suits and white coats. To me it doesn’t make sense that these are two separate communities, as a business it is in your best interest to make sure that the technology that the white coats are able to “sell” their products. Additionally, the suits, the marketers should be very involved in coming up with new concepts and ideas for the white coats to work on, just because they are not scientists does not mean that they don’t have unique insights and ideas that may help a scientist.

 

Chapter 2

MDMA to Treat PTSD?

“most sexual assault victims choke up when they come to relive  the experience in court”-(Weinberg)

Clearly, Helena went through one of the most traumatic experiences a person can experience; an experience that scarred her, and caused her to forget important details which could have been used to convict her assaulter. Recently, there has been studies that have been using MDMA, the famous party drug used by concert-goers everywhere. Believed to have no medical value at all, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, otherwise known as MAPS, has been using MDMA and other psychedelics to help treat PTSD in veterans, with a very effective success rate. Sanjay Gupta recently did a very interesting piece on these studies.

 

MDMA to Treat PTSD?

Serendipity

“The problem with these closed environments is that they inhibit serendipity and reduce the overall network of minds that can potentially engage with a problem.” (124)

I have never understood why people, scientists, corporations, could be so caught in the prospect of making a profit that they forget that they should be inventing because it betters society. Besides a small percent of innovations, everything we have today is a product of building upon others achievements, improving and perfecting them; patents and intellectual property rights are in place to protect the inventor but at what cost? R & D departments are the most secretive parts of corporation but they also are the ones on the cutting edge of science, science that, if shared with other R & D departments, could not only be perfected faster but also help a lot of people in the process.

Serendipity

The Fourth Quadrant

“these non-market, decentralized environments do not have immense paydays to motivate their participants. But their openness creates other, power opportunities for good ideas to flourish. All of the patterns of innovation we have observed in the previous chapters—liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, noise, exaptation, emergent platforms— do best in open environments where ideas flow in unregulated channels.”

To me, the fourth quadrant represents the best of humanity, selflessly and persistently working with your fellow man towards a common goal, not for financial rewards but for the simple reason of moving forward into the great unknown as one; to be better than we have been, to be smarter. to be wiser. We see everyday in news about stories of seperation and conflict over our petty differences, but its the innovations in the fourth quadrant that reflect the best qualities of humans. It is reassuring to see that over the centuries we have seen an increase in the fourth quadrant because it gives me hope that one day our children won’t have to live in a world of hate and fear, this “coming together” quality of the fourth quadrant need not just refer to technology but in every aspect of human society. One of the most sobering, yet inspiring speeches ever given, that encompasses the fourth quadrant is Carl Sagan’s  Pale Blue Dot.

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”- Carl Sagan

 

The Fourth Quadrant

Platforms

“APL was a superb environment for inquisitive young kids, and particularly so in the Research Center. It was an environment that encouraged people to think broadly and generally about task problems, and one in which inquisitive kids felt free to follow their curiosity.” (187)

The Advanced Physics Lab is world famous for its innovation, and in its making the impossible, possible. What caught my eye in this particular passage was the fact that Johnson made sure to say that these scientists, were “inquisitive young kids”, I think the importance of these scientists being just kids is crucial to the success of the APL. Young minds ask more broad questions because they haven’t been conditioned by the older members of society to think and act a certain way, they (we) let our minds wander and wonder about the impossible because our species has proven time and time again that the impossible is most certainly possible, as long as you have the new generations asking the questions. The day we truly let our kids, and I mean kids, not young adult scientists, question everything and not chastise them for not being realistic or possible, is the day we raise the smartest and most innovative generation the world has ever seen.

 

Platforms

Exaptation

“Apple’s approach, by contrast, is much messier and more chaotic at the beginning, but it avoids this chronic problem of good ideas being hollowed out as they progress through the development chain.” (171)

I found Apple’s chaotic approach to innovation very interesting because people were encouraged to think outside the box, and those ideas were embraced. However, I thought that there could be a side effect of this process, that being could the openness of Apple’s system also side track some of their employees? As in, I feel as though many of their employees could get side tracked with ideas that are simply not feasible at the time, not because their ideas impossible, but they include technology that doesn’t exist yet. Apple has been slowly but surely making their phones thinner and thinner, however, an employee who designs a paper thin phone, as genius and innovative as it is, while not be able to make that dream possible because no technology exists to make it real. Being Apple, they could invest billions into the R &D of said paper thin phone, but they still have other projects that need that money too, making this employee’s design, that may have taken him hundreds of hours, unable to be made.

 

Exaptation

The Adjacent Possible

“The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore.” (33)

Earlier in the chapter Johnson mentions that evolution could be looked at as the constant struggle to explore the adjacent possible, the idea that certain adaptations can only happen after mutation has occurred, a mutation that makes that adaptation possible, before this mutation has happened, the adaptation may never actually happen. Using this thought process, the adjacent possible can be used for human technology and innovation; although a technology may be thought to be impossible, it could simply be that the technology required to transition to this even more preposterous technology, needs to be discovered first.

The Adjacent Possible